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The First Assignment -Response to Billybuc’s Photo Challenge #2

Shauna's preferred genre is fiction. She particularly enjoys rising to a challenge posed by fellow artists. Picture prompts spark her muse.

Abandoned lodge

Abandoned lodge

Nestled amongst clusters of pines at the foot of the mountain, the lodge seemed out of place. In the eerie silence of Winter, the aging building seemed devoid of life. No cars. No humans. No tracks. No wildlife.

As a newbie travel reporter for The Chronicle, my first assignment was to find an out-of-the-way destination, spend some time there, and tell my readers why the area should be a go-to for adventure, relaxation, and the perfect getaway.

This place certainly fit the out-of-the-way bill, but I wasn’t so sure of it being the perfect getaway. Something felt off. To be honest, the place and the silence that surrounded it, gave me the heebie-jeebies.

But I was determined to prove to my bosses that they’d chosen the right reporter for their dying newspaper. It needed new life in this age of electronic fact finding to stay alive. And I was hell bent to revive a dying industry. At least in my little town of Harvest Bay.

Harvest Bay Marina (fictional name)

Harvest Bay Marina (fictional name)

I remember the day I first arrived in this quaint coastal town. I had become weary of the hustle and bustle of the east coast. The paper I’d been with for decades was offering retirement options to many of their older reporters. You see, the newspaper industry has become archaic. Subscriptions have plummeted as the Internet provides more and more highways of information, for free. News can now be read on the fly. And today’s society seems to always be in a hurry. These days, who takes time out of their day to sit down with a cup of coffee and leisurely read the newspaper? Not many, sad to say.

So, after much soul-searching, I decided to accept my paper’s offer of voluntary retirement with a generous lump sum payment as incentive. I took the opportunity to uproot myself and head for someplace that wasn’t so driven to leave behind the mores I grew up with. Someplace more laid back. Someplace where life is simpler, and people appreciate the little things in life.

I ultimately decided to move to the Pacific Northwest. I’d read a lot about the area and liked what I learned. As it turned out, The Chronicle, in Harvest Bay, Washington was looking for a travel reporter who could breathe life into the paper and increase readership. I met with the editor at a restaurant overlooking the marina to discuss the position and how I could help.

Thankfully, the interview went well and here I am.

View from my office

View from my office

My office has a breathtaking view of distant snow-capped mountains across from the river. To me, the scene presents an opportunity to explore destinations unknown.

My mind went to work.

I headed down the hall and gently rapped on the open door.

“You got a minute, Bill?”

“Sure, what’s up, Ben?”

“Well, I have an idea for a story. You challenged me to find an out-of-the-way destination as the subject for my first article. Since I’m new here, I have lots to explore. Those mountains over there seem to be a good place to start.”

“Not much over there, Ben, but streams and trails, but I think you may have something. Only thing is, I can’t afford to send a camera crew with you, but I can give you a company credit card, arrange for your travel, and place your deadline for…say three weeks from Monday.”

“Perfect. I’m a pretty good photographer myself, so I can take care of that end of the story. Three weeks should be plenty of time for me to discover the area with a fresh set of eyes and objective perspective. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest with you, Bill.”

“Alrighty then, let’s set the ball in motion. The only way over there is by boat. I’ll arrange for that and let you know when to meet your ride at the marina.”

As it turned out, launch time was the next day at 9:00 a.m. I busied myself the night before by packing my gear, my camera, a notepad, some munchies, and plenty of warm clothing to accommodate the cooler temperatures I’d encounter once I got to the other side.

Peaceful, meandering river

Peaceful, meandering river

I met the captain of the privately chartered boat at 8:45 the next morning. He helped me load my gear, gave me a life preserver, and informed me that I should be to my destination in about an hour.

In order to not miss a single photo opportunity, I kept my camera with me, along with pen and paper to jot down notes, if needed.

The ride was peaceful, relaxing, and breathtaking. As we slowly meandered along the river, the sounds of nature came to life. Large water birds flapped their wings overhead, then skidded effortlessly across the water to catch prey they’d spied from above. The rippling sound barely broke the serenity of the picturesque setting. Occasionally, fish could be heard jumping out of the water as they expertly performed an airborne dance. Chirps, gurgles, and songs were audible from the path of trees outlining our travels.

Change in vegetation at my destination

Change in vegetation at my destination

As we neared the valley below the mountains, vegetation became denser and the river narrowed. We had gone as far as the boat could go. Before turning back, Captain Rick remined me that cell phone signals would be sporadic at best. Therefore, he was scheduled to pick me up at the drop off spot exactly two weeks from today. That would give me a week to get my story finalized and ready for publication by the three-week deadline.

I disembarked, thanked the Captain, and set out for wherever my gut took me on this journey.

After about an hour of hiking through brush and high grasses, I came upon a clearing. That’s when I saw the lodge that appeared to have been abandoned.

I felt a sense of unease settle over me as I made my way to the lone building. The silence was eerie and a bit unnerving. However, I’d come this far. The only way to go was forward. I was determined to complete my mission.

As I neared the building, I noticed all the windows had been boarded up. I wonder how long this place has stood here like this? I mused to myself. I made my way to the front door, taking note of the complete silence that laid so heavily in the air.

Taking hold of my trepidation, I depressed the door handle and found it to be unlocked. However, it took some heave-ho on my part to open the door. Once inside, I found complete darkness, so I left the door open in order to gather my bearing. Off to the right was a small table with a lantern. When I turned the knob on the lantern, it came to life. Complete surprise to me, but a welcome one.

With lantern in hand, I explored the area. It was apparent no one had been here in a very long time. Dust and cobwebs everywhere. I made my way down the hall where I found a small kitchen to the right. No gas. No chance. I’ll have to fend for myself. But how is a city boy supposed to do that?

Farther down the hall, I found a bedroom that appeared to be somewhat habitable. I laid down my gear, then eased myself onto the bed and fell asleep.

I was startled awake by a presence in the room. At the foot of the bed sat an old man. For unknown reasons, I wasn’t afraid. As I sat up, he began to speak.

I suppose you’re wondering why this place is all closed up. Well, I’ll tell ya, I been waitin' for a brave soul to come here to help me tell my story. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Hank. Hank Pervill. This used to be my family home.

I was rapt with attention, but felt he needed to continue without any interruption from me.

Fifty years ago today, in fact, my entire family was here celebratin’ my 75th birthday. Sistas, brothas, kids, grandkids, great grandkids – they was all here. We had a good ole time tellin’ stories, playin' games, an’ eatin’ good food. We partook until well into the wee hours of the mornin', then tucked ourselves in for the night.

When I woke up, I din’t hear no sounds, so I went to check on ever’one. They was all in their beds. And all was dead. I have no idea what happened to them or why they was dead and I was alive.

I set about buryin’ each and ever’ one of them aroun’ this prop’ty. I’m sure you’ve notice that they ain’t no sounds ‘round here, nor no critters. That’s ‘cuz I think somethin’ evil took my fam’ly away from me.

I’ve been settin’ here ever since waitin’ for someone to tell my story to. Now you here. Now mebbe I can join my fam’ly and rest with them. I’m so tired.

I was completely aghast and enthralled at the same time. They say everything happens for a reason. My being let go from the paper back east and my getting this assignment clear across the country, is kismet. Of that I have no doubt.

For the rest of my stay, I never saw Hank again. But I did manage to get photos of him and the surrounding property.

On the day I hiked back down to my pick-up point, wildlife was rampant around the lodge and its property.

The cycle of life had been restored.

Boy, did I have a story to tell!

© 2020 Shauna L Bowling


Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 10, 2020:

Thank you, Peggy. It's so good to see you back!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 10, 2020:

What a fantastic response to this challenge.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 05, 2020:

Thank you Dora.

I think the results of Ben's first assignment with The Chronicle reinforced his decision to leave his former post and travel clear across the country for a new beginning. Something tells me his editor won't restrict him to travel articles.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 05, 2020:

I look forward to discovering what you come up with Venkatachari.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 05, 2020:

Your story describes a writer's dream--a unique tale. I rejoice with the reporter. A good story!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 05, 2020:

Sorry, Shauna. I will not be this time. I did the first one. Now, a break with some other preoccupation. I shall try the third one again.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 05, 2020:

Wow, Vankatachari, you've managed to start my morning off with a huge smile. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Will you be responding to the challenge as well?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 05, 2020:

Paula, first thank you for your amazing comment!

There are no winners in Bill's resurrected photo prompt challenges. I asked him to bring it back to life to help my muse get off her keister and do what she's meant to do. So far it's working!

Thanks for your continued support and cherished friendship. You mean the world to me.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 04, 2020:

Wow, Shauna! An amazing story-telling!

I wonder at your muses. So, brilliantly crafted. You have done full justice to Bill's challenge and even excelled all expectations. I enjoyed it a lot.

Suzie from Carson City on February 04, 2020:

Sha.......That mind of yours is ripe for fabulous fiction! Creativity is your middle name, girlfriend! This story is superb! I'm glad you let me know of it's existence! Is this MORE of Bill's challenge? When is the final judging? I'm eagerly awaiting.

You actually made me "jealous" of this guy's job/opportunity! I got into it, thanks to your writing skills! Good luck! Love ya, Paula

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 04, 2020:

Thank you, Flourish. I must apologize to you for not visiting your posts of late. I do my HP reading during my lunch hour and just don't have the time to get thru all the wonderful songs. When I'm not busy, I try to catch up on posts I didn't get to during lunch, but have to choose ones with no audio. Bummer.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 03, 2020:

How terrific this is with its haunting details. I could easily imagine that it could be turned into a longer tale. Very nice work. You should be proud!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Linda, there really is "The Chronicle" in Washington State? Hmm. I thought I made that up.I guess we can let it fly since I purposely didn't pinpoint where fictional Harvest Bay is.

Part of this story is based on what's going on with The Orlando Sentinel of late. The older long-time columnists are being offered huge incentives to retire because subscriptions are down. I'm proud to say, though, that I still get the paper twice a week: Thursday and Sunday.

I'm glad this story kept you guessing. That's what I was after.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 03, 2020:

Shauna, this one really grabbed my attention. My younger daughter's first full-time job working after graduating with a degree in Journalism was with a daily paper in Washington State, "The Chronicle." You kept me guessing to the very end. Well done; please find the time to write more.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Thank you, Meg. I knew I was going to introduce a paranormal aspect into the story, but didn't want to do it too soon. I think my readers are beginning to expect paranormal from me (and rightly so). I wanted otherworldly to sort of come up and slap from behind, like "where did that come from?".

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Bill your approval means the world to me. I can never thank you enough for providing these prompts. They're helping me pick my muse up out of her slump. Here it is February 3rd and I've already written two new stories this year. That's more than I wrote in all of 2019!

Thank you, my friend!!!!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 03, 2020:

OOOooohhhh, that was scary, good tense story. I was wondering what was going to happen the whole time. Good idea for the story too.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2020:

Your muse is alive and well. I had no idea where you were heading with this one, but I knew it would be worth the journey...and you didn't disappoint. So very well written, my friend. Stay tuned! Another prompt will be coming within the week.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Thank you, Manatita. You're very kind.

manatita44 from london on February 03, 2020:

You told your story well and made good use of the photographs. Excellent job, Shauna.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Verlie, you comment is so supportive and validating. I'm thrilled that you enjoy my storytelling. That's what I am for as a fiction writer.

Will you be joining in on the fun?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

Thanks, Mar. It feels good to get back in the swing, although I still need to give my muse a push to get her rolling.

I don't know if you got my email or not, but thank you for the adorable kitty cards. Too cute!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 03, 2020:

John, it took a while for my muse to become inspired with this one as well. Fortunately, Bill gave us carte blanche with this one, which helped.

I love the paranormal. Dean Koontz is my favorite author. That kinda says something, huh?

Thanks for your wonderful comment, John. You started my morning off with a smile!

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on February 02, 2020:

Great imaginative response to the picture prompts Shauna. I have to concur with your other readers in this comment stream, you've got the storyteller's gift. I enjoyed the narrator's voice, and the voice of the old man telling his story. It's inspiring to see your enthusiasm for writing these challenges.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on February 02, 2020:

I never want your stories to stop, dear Sha. I totally agree with Ruby.

LONG LIVE YOUR MUSE ...!! Love you and your take on this photo challenge!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 02, 2020:

Great job Shauna. I had no idea where the story as going but your engaging writing style always captures me and pulls me along for the ride. I love the order you used the photos an wove them into the story. this paranormal fiction niche certainly suits you. I don’t know if I will be joining in this challenge as, although the photos are beautiful, my muse doesn’t seem to be inspired. Hopefully by reading great stories like this that may change.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 02, 2020:

Ruby, I so love your comment! I can't help but bring the paranormal into my fiction stories. I was hoping that with the backlog, my readers wouldn't know what was coming. You reinforced what I was after.

I love dialog. I try to speak with the region, but most times I go southern. However, in this story, I think simple down-home was called for. I mean, after all, how many of us put the "g" on words that end in "ing:"?

I hope other readers get the same reaction you did from this story. I love writing and I prefer fiction.

My muse has been hiding, that's why I reached out to Bill for some help.

Thank you, Bill!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 02, 2020:

boy, did you tell a story! I loved it and the dialog, how did you do that? Shauna, I hope your muse woke up and will never go to sleep again! This event happened 50 years ago and he was 75 woke me up to a paranormal thrill. Can you tell that I really got into this story?

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